The lack of strict legislation governing alcohol advertising and sponsorship is allowing Irish children to be “groomed” by the alcohol industry, the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications has heard today (Wednesday).
Dr Bobby Smyth, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and Professor Joe Barry, Public Health Specialist, addressed the Committee on behalf of Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, of which they are both board members.
Alcohol Action Ireland is calling on the government to implement the recommendations of the Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy, which would see alcohol sponsorship of sports phased out and bring an end to the current system of self-regulation for alcohol marketing, along with a large number of other, wide-ranging measures designed to reduce the significant economic and human costs of alcohol-related harm in Ireland.
Dr Bobby Smyth told the Committee: “Today we are discussing just one of the dozens of recommendations from that report in isolation. There is a danger of failing to see the big picture. In addition to making changes to pricing and availability in order to apply a brake on Ireland’s runaway drinking, we must also take our foot off the accelerator and alcohol promotion, via advertising and sponsorship, is that accelerator.
“With 72,000 babies born each year, our country now functions as a conveyor belt producing very heavy drinkers, each of whom then generates great profits for the alcohol industry. The age of onset of drinking is now typically around 15 years. There are 60,000 children who are going to start drinking this year. 300,000 Irish children are going to start drinking in the next five years. Because these children are going to grow up to be among the heaviest drinkers on earth by the time they are 20 years old, it is they who are the real targets of alcohol advertising and sponsorship. From a business perspective it is vital to establish brand awareness and ideally brand loyalty, prior to commencing drinking,” said Dr Smyth.
“As was pointed out just last weekend by a former President of the GAA, Dr Michael Loftus, through our ridiculously lax advertising and sponsorship guidelines, we facilitate the drinks industry to groom our children, in the interests of profit, to become the next generation of hard and heavy Irish drinkers.
“While common sense tells us that sponsorship promotes consumption, with typical arrogance the alcohol Industry, and those in receipt of its money, demand that we provide them with evidence that it does. It is this multi-billion Euro industry that should be required to provide proof. If they have proof that alcohol sponsorship does nothing to increase alcohol-related harm, than Alcohol Action Ireland would have no issue with this activity,” said Dr Smyth.
Professor Joe Barry told the Committee that: “the sporting bodies and the alcohol industry are incorrect when they state that there is no evidence that sports sponsorship by drinks companies influences children – and that is what they are – to drink.”
“Alcohol marketing and advertising does work and it influences young people’s alcohol beliefs and behaviour. The alcohol companies would not spend so much on marketing and advertising if it did not work. We have much evidence that young people exposed to alcohol branding begin drinking at an earlier age and that can lead to dependence in adulthood,” said Professor Barry, who cited several studies on the impact of alcohol advertising and sponsorship on the drinking habits of children and young people.
“The measures we are hoping will be introduced in relation to breaking the link between sporting bodies and alcohol marketing are a crucial part of our response as a country. We have a big drinking problem and many of our young people are storing up trouble for themselves and their families in the future. Sport is a very important part of our culture and long may it remain so, but let it not be dependent on alcohol money as now seems to be the case. You are our legislators. Only you can implement some of the recommendations being sought. Self-regulation does not work as we have seen to our cost in other areas of public life,” said Professor Barry.
For further comment or information please contact Conor Cullen, Alcohol Action Ireland’s Communications Officer, on 01-8780610 or 087-9950186.
– Follow this link for a full copy of Dr Bobby Smyth’s statement to the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications
– Follow this link for a full copy of Professor Joe Barry’s statement to the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications
– For reports and studies showing the link between alcohol marketing (including sports sponsorship) and consumption among young people see the Alcohol & Marketing Reports section of www.alcoholireland.ie
– See pages 21 to 24 of the Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy for the full list of recommendations in relation to alcohol marketing
– For further information on alcohol marketing in Ireland see: Have We Bottled It? Alcohol Marketing and Young People
– Follow this link for facts and figures on alcohol-related harm in Ireland